On the journey onward from the onsen yesterday (one where we managed to just get every last bus of the night, by sheer fluke) we arrived at kawaguchi-ko, portal to Mt. Fuji. The weather had been pretty crap all day and we were considering binning our plan to climb at night to see the sun rise, however a chat or two later to random travellers (in a variety of languages) we were kind of afraid of the journey to the summit and eager to give it a try.

With 15 minutes before the last bus to the 5th station (the point where the hiking finished and climbing begins) we started reorganising our packs to minimize what we took while preparing for almost every potential disasterous outcome. We thought we were pretty clever, untill some Japanese boys we met earlier jumped on the bus wearing tracksuits and trainers. Oh well, be prepared right?

Making some new friends on the bus ride up we had a clutch of about 6 of us ready to take Fuji-san on: an Aussie, an American, a Canadian and a German (all of whom spoke excellent English and were on the scientific research front or similar, most travelling for conferences). Our battlegroup was formed.

The climb started off as a gentle stroll at about 22:15 but rapidly turned into a stairmaster of death as the incline began. Step after step woven in zig-zag patterns across the landscape took us all the way to 2,200m... Of 3776. The only bonus was the the gloriously full and bright moon sloping across the sky as we worked our meagre thighs.

From this point forward it got gradually harder, scrambling up rocky 'pathways' in the dark with litterally thousands of tourists, most of whom were Japanese. On the journey up Celine had told us that it was her birthday starting around 2 hours in so there was a hushed chorus of 'happy birthday' as we tried not to wake the slumbering sherpas (?) in the stations.

These stations, small collections of huts up the main ascent path where you could buy water etc. (for continually more excessive prices) came slowly but they did arrive, and we found ourselves in an enormous queue of climbers somewhere around 3,100m. Being impatient gaijin we weaved our way through the line of climbers untill we reached the final station. Many were grandparents, some were pre-teen children, most were Japanese people fullfilling the unofficial national personal achievement award of climbing the active volcano.

Despite being only 600m from the top the journey was not nearly over then (and I've also cut about 4 hours of immensely tiring trudging up slopes of volcanic gravel as well as the aforementioned assault course of mini rock outcrops - boring stuff really!) Once beyond the final station it was a gruelling 80 minute hike to the top, except it was more of an enormous torch-lit snake of a queue.

The weather gradually closing in, you could see far off city lights gradually turn to cloud. After temporarily losing Chris (the Aussie) to altitude sickness (and 'mild hypothermia'!) we found ourselves at the very top station (5 hours after starting!), metres below the official top (which is the other side of the volcanic crater).

Visibilty at this point was about 50m, and the cloud could be seen whipping around people's faces, luckily the shack-come-eatery in the top station provided warm shelter and, at a price almost steeper than the final climb, a bowl of ramen, soup or similarly hearty broth. The wait was on to see the sun rise.

Alas, 4:15 came and, though the sky turned ever so slightly red for a few moments, the cloud was too thick to see anything of the sunset - a powerfully dissapointing turn of events, nearly 6 hours of climbing for just more bad weather. Not to be hard done by we sat in the shack and chatted, as we had been for the whole climb, about life in our various stages and anything else that came to our sleep deprived, altitude sickened minds.

6am brought the decision to make our move home. The 'descending route' was basically a ski slope in yet more volcanic rubble so the going was easier than the climb, but seriously hard on the thighs. We decided to move to the route we climbed up, rather than the rest of the descent route, only to practically instantly regret it (it's very hard going down rocky craggs) - but we made it to the final stretch just in time to be completely soaked by a practically rainforest style downpour.

Did I mention we'd been awake since 6:50 the day before - 30 hours earlier?! A long, wet and cramped bus ride back to kawaguchi-ko later we found the usual 30 degree glorious sunshine and a spot to lay out our drenched clothes. Life is good!

Mt. Fuji (3776 meters): Climbed

Sightings of Mt. Fuji: 0 (yes, it was too cloudy to see Fuji from further away than your own height for our entire stay! Sad times)